Heritage loss is shameful
The demolition of a building over a century old, touted as part of the historical legacy of Phrae province, by a private constructor commissioned for a restoration project, is causing a public uproar.
Located at Ban Chetawan arboretum in Phrae's Muang district, the green, two-storey building that once housed Bombay Burmah Trading Co, belongs to the Forest Conservation Area Office 13.
The original owner was granted a logging concession in the western Yom River in 1889. The restoration plan is to turn the building into a study centre.
However, netizens this week shared pictures of the entire building being reduced to debris.
To appease the public, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Varawut Silpa-archa broke his silence, saying those involved in the project meant well. The building's concrete foundations were "too damaged to repair and needed to be redone to make the structure safe" for tourists to visit.
He also voiced optimism that the debris would be reassembled in its original glory. It is reported that the engineer commissioned to undertake the project is due to explain the details today.
But Mr Varawut's optimism is not good enough. On the contrary, it simply fuels doubts. Older buildings or temples, hundreds of years old, have been restored without tearing down anything.
Local groups alleged there was no study on how to restore the structure without compromising its historical and architectural values before the four-million-baht project kicked off.
The fiasco shows major flaws in the conservation process in this country. Despite its historical value, the house was never registered as a national heritage building, and this means the forest office had a free hand over what happened to it. It never sought consultation with the Fine Arts Department (FAD), nor did it ask for input from local conservation groups.
Conservationists have cast doubt about claims that the constructor planned to put all the debris back together after they rebuilt the concrete foundations. They are probably right as it seems the dismembered parts were not marked for reassembly.
The FAD belatedly stepped in, saying yesterday it had assigned experts from the northern region to inspect the site and see how it can save this lost legacy.
Many old buildings under the care of state agencies, as well as Buddhist temples, share the unfortunate fate of the Bombay Burmah house. They are either left in a sorry state or shoddily renovated. The FAD itself has occasionally landed in trouble for substandard renovation projects, like a temple in Chiang Rai that hit the news headlines recently.
Several buildings were torn down and replaced with an alien structure, destroying historical value. The most recent case involved a Yannawa temple which was came under fire for its blatant attempt to demolish its dhamma learning centre and clear the area for a parking lot. This temple previously evicted one of the city's oldest communities to rent the land for a construction project.
Other examples are hundreds of old railway stations that are being dismantled to pave the way for double-track railways. Petitions by conservationists to the State Railway of Thailand to have them removed and preserved have simply fallen flat.
While Thailand loves to brag about its cultural heritage, so many of its heritage sites have been destroyed by the state itself. What a terrible shame.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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